Working From Home: The highs and lows brought to life in Stroud Green Festival performance
- Credit: Stroud Green Festival
When I ask composer and singer Frances M. Lynch to tell me about her new show Working From Home, to be performed by Electric Voice Theatre as part of the Stroud Green Festival, she replies that “it’s interesting that you should call it a show”.
This remark sums up the esoteric nature of the performance, which combines acapella singing and poetry from the Gaelic-speaking Crown Bard of Scotland to tell the stories of historic women who worked from home long before the pandemic — this includes composers, writers and scientists alike.
“People are more aware of working from home than they were before, before the pandemic people assumed work from home meant putting your feet up,” says Lynch, explaining that “women have been doing it for centuries, especially women scientists, who weren’t allowed in labs.”
Lynch is most enthusiastic during our interview when she is discussing the women her show celebrates — these women range from Florence Nightingale and the pet owl she kept in Greece, to the composer Eliza Flower (“she was well-liked but then started living in sin with a reverend, a real Victorian scandal”) and Imogen Holst, the daughter of ‘The Planets’ composer Gustav who, in a move reminiscent of the first lockdown, was commissioned in the Second World War to cycle around South West England raising morale through music and dance.
Lynch stresses that this brand of quirky anecdote is a key feature of the show, saying that “it’s an ongoing chat with the singers and involves a good gossip about classical composers, we tried to make it as fun as possible.”
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This is testament to a wider commitment to making classical music more accessible, most notably by using a BSL interpreter at all performances.
"I’ve never seen an interpreter at any other concerts, people in the classical music world don’t think of it as important. Deaf people enjoying music is seen as an oxymoron, but it’s not at all,” says Lynch, citing the example of Evelyn Glennie, a Scottish percussionist who has been profoundly deaf since the age of twelve. Pre-pandemic, the touring show often incorporated opportunities to touch props and costumes in advance of the show, and for visually impaired people to orient themselves around the stage.
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The show also aims to break down traditional barriers between science and the arts. As well as incorporating female composers working at similar points in history as influential female scientists, the Stroud Green performance also features music written by scientists. These include Isabella Gordon, a marine biologist who wrote limericks, and Margaret Cavendish, who “studied physics when it was brand new” and committed her early conceptions of the atom to poetry. “They didn’t view poetry as something to be done ‘on the side’, science and the arts weren’t so divided in those days.”
The pandemic of course places limitations on the scale of the performance, and thus only four singers, a poet and a BSL interpreter will be on stage, a far cry from past performances which have incorporated larger choirs and members of the local community. Has this presented any difficulties?
“It’s better than Zoom, where the delay makes it weird, especially for singers, a lot needs to be recorded. And most music has to be rearranged extensively for a solely acapella performance.”
Nevertheless, small-scale acapella does have its virtues, given the independence granted to the singers in the absence of a conductor. “You can be so flexible about changing key and I think that audiences respond to voices in a way they don’t for other instruments.
“I could honestly listen to acapella singing forever.”
Frances M Lynch and the Electronic Voice Theatre Acapella will perform Working From Home, a semi-staged BSL interpreted concert, as part of Stroud Green Festival on Friday, September 3, from 7.30pm. Tickets from £12. For bookings: www.electricvoicetheatre.co.uk or call 020 8351 2838.